Thursday, 7 June 2012

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I had McCarthy’s The Road inflicted on me as a reading group choice, and plodded my way from start to finish without ever taking to it. The post-apocalyptic shtick grated from page one, but I found myself dragged to the end of the book by McCarthy’s spare style. Despite all the rude things I have said since about The Road, I said that I was determined to revisit his writing, and I finally took out No Country For Old Men from the library to make good on my promise.

Set in 1980, it starts with a man coming across the aftermath of a drug deal that has gone wrong in a deserted location on the Texas-Mexico border. He finds a case with over $2,000,000 in it and takes the rather hasty decision to nick off with the cash. After that, he’s on the run from a bloodthirsty Mexican drug gang, and the even more deadly and relentless Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic hit-man whose preferred method of execution is a metal bolt gun normally used for dispatching cattle at the abattoir.

Realising pretty quickly that he’s in a world of trouble, Llewellyn Moss, the unwilling fugitive with the cash, is chased from motel to motel across Southern Texas as the body count stacks up behind him. Finally, after being shot and injured and patched up again in a Mexican border town, he tries to arrange a secret assignation with his wife, also in hiding. On the way he picks up a hitchhiker, a fifteen year old runaway. Tempted into a rare bout of sociability, Moss gets a couple of cold beers when they’re staying at a motel:

He walked down to her room and tapped at the door. He waited. He tapped again. He saw the curtain move and then she opened the door. She stood there in the same jeans and T-shirt. She looked like she’d just woken up.
I know you aint old enough to drink but I thought I’d see if you wanted a beer.
Yeah, she said. I’d drink a beer.
He lifted one of the cold bottles out of the brown paper bag and handed it to her. Here you go, he said.
He’d already turned to go. She stepped out and let the door shut behind her. You don’t need to rush off thataway, she said.
He stopped on the lower step.
You got another one of these in that sack?
Yeah, I got two more. And I aim to drink both of em.
I just meant maybe you could set here and drink one of em with me.
He squinted at her. You ever notice how women have trouble takin no for a answer? I think it starts about age three.

Not exactly a conversationalist, Moss gets stuck into his brew:

He sat on the step and pulled one of the beers from the bag and twisted off the cap and tilted the bottle and drank. She sat on the step next up and did the same.
You sleep a lot? he said.
I sleep when I get the chance. Yeah. You?
I aint had a night’s sleep in about two weeks. I don’t know what it would feel like. I think it’s beginnin to make me stupid.

It’s a bit late to worry about that. With luck he’ll have time to enjoy the beer before Chigurh and the Mexicans catch up with him.

There’s a lesson to be learned here: if ever you find yourself in the Texas desert next to a lot of dead bodies, a bale of heroin and a satchel full of used dollar bills, walk away. Just walk away...

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